Clash of the Titans has a bit of a rustic charm, and the often-creepy stop-motion does look impressive even if it is past its prime.
By Albert DeSantis
Published April 05, 2010
With Louis Leterrier's remake of Clash of the Titans hitting theatres, I thought it would be a good idea to bone up on the original.
The 1981 film has some nifty stop-motion effects, and while most of the film seems like a Biblical epic in search of an actual Biblical story, it gets progressively wilder as it goes on. Strange, strange movie.
On high in Olympus, the Gods led by Zeus (Lawrence Olivier) are meddling with human affairs, sometimes sending the monstrous Kraken to wipe cities off the Earth; and sometimes mating with humans, such as the goddess Thetis (Maggie Smith), who has a son named Calibos (Neil McCarthy).
(I managed to follow the hierarchy of the various Gods not because I know anything about Greek mythology but because I've read a lot of Incredible Hercules comics.)
Anyway, Zeus' mortal son Persesus (Harry Hamlin) is sent off on a crusade because... well, I guess the Gods need to send mortals scampering for fun.
Befriending an old playwright named Ammon (Burgess Meredith), Persesus falls in love with the beautiful princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker), gets himself an honest-to-god flying horse, and has to confront witches and the snake-headed Medusa.
To the film's detriment, it's kind of episodic with no overall plot. At first you think you're watching Ten Commandments but then, by the end, there's a three-headed dog attacking our heroes. Stuff just happens, which leads to other stuff.
You couldn't call this movie a stirring thespian exercise. The basic acting style is: look pretty and/or cool and hit your marks. Aside from Burgess Meredith - he's freakin' Mickey so of course he's awesome - most of the actors don't really elevate the materiel, which is how fantasy movies become something better.
Even the great Lawrence Olivier is a little rote in his proclamations. Persesus, played by future "Dancing with the Stars" season 3 contestant-to-be Hamlin, has all the charisma of a wet napkin, going along for the ride as the Gods jerk him around.
'He's gonna kill ya, Rock! I mean, Persesus!'
It's a bit odd that the most compelling character in the film is Calibos, the cursed half-man half-goat who kidnaps Andromeda soul at night (no, really) so he can gaze upon her beauty.
McCarthy has a decent voice full of faux-Shakespearian anguish, and he's the only person to have something of a character arc: He goes from tragic to lecherous to murderous. That kinda counts.
In the close-ups he is a man in a make-up job and in the wide shots he's a stop-motion effect. Unfortunately, switchover from stop-motion creature to make-up effect human is never convincing. It would have been better to keep him as a full stop-motion creature, like Medusa.
Speaking of whom, the scene when Persesus confronts Medusa works like gangbusters. Featuring some classic stop-motion work by FX pioneer Ray Harryhausen, the animation may not be very realistic but it has a lot of character.
This movie is definitely worth checking out for the effects from the era it was produced. The Kraken, looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon's cousin and twice as nasty, has herky-jerky King Kong movements.
The movie is actually kind of creepy despite the sometimes-creaky effects. Medusa isn't a pretty at all - she slithers along like a snake and shoots arrows into unsuspecting warriors.
For some reason, and in one of the movie's sillier scenes, her blood drops turn into giant scorpions. I can buy a lot of things in fantasy movies, but blood droplets magically transforming into killer scorpions? I don't get it.
The stop-motion work has a lot of mood
There are some tonal shifts that are downright jarring. The sidekick for Perseus is a mechanical owl that bleeps and boops like an R2-D2 ripoff. This owl, Bubo, is really annoying and has a tendency to engage in pratfalls. In Star Wars, you can almost understand what R2-D2 is saying through the tone of each whistle, but Bubo the mechanical owl just natters pointlessly.
Annoyingly, the owl sweeps in for a last-minute save at the end to make him the hero.
GOD%$#& @#$%& $%#!% %&*@ BIRD!
One of the movie's stranger sequences is when Perseus talks to three witches who act like something out of an old vaudeville routine. They're supposed to be scary and weird, but they just come off as excited old coots who bicker as they ogle the hot piece of man-meat.
Overall, Clash of the Titans isn't really a classic and there are better FX movies from the early '80s to watch. But it has a bit of a rustic charm, and the stop-motion does look impressive even if it is past its prime. Not a memorable film, but a mildly enjoyable one.
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